DOJ charges 2 Russian officers with global hacking campaign targeting US, UK intelligence officials

The Russia-backed "Callisto Group" allegedly engaged in spear-phishing attempts.

December 7, 2023, 1:50 PM

The Justice Department announced charges Thursday against two Russian intelligence officers for allegedly engaging in a global hacking campaign that targeted military and government officials in the United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine and NATO-member countries.

Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko and Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets are alleged to have led the so-called "Callisto Group" that engaged in spear-phishing campaigns to gain continued access to a range of victims between 2016 and 2022 -- that included current and former employees of the U.S. intelligence community, Department of Defense, State Department, defense contractors and Energy Department facilities.

The indictment alleges the group also targeted military and government officials in the U.K., as well as journalists, in operations that were designed to influence the country's 2019 elections.

Each of the men is charged with one count of conspiracy to obtain unauthorized access to steal information from computers. While there's no allegation they took destructive actions with any of the computers, officials said they did transmit malicious code when gaining access to them that could have impacted some of their data.

Officials highlighted that the two officers are allegedly from Center 18 of Russia's FSB, which is the FBI's Russian counterpart in fighting cybercrimes.

Prosecutors say the group would use "spoofed" email accounts designed to look like personal and work accounts that the victims would commonly engage with in order to get them to provide account login details that they would then use to gain persistent access to their systems. They would also send emails that looked as if they were from email providers suggesting the users were violating their terms of service.

In the case of the alleged U.K. election interference, prosecutors say the Callisto Group leaked information from several of their victims to the press in Russia and the U.K.

It's not immediately clear the extent of the victims they were able to successfully target or the range of information that was compromised.

While the two men are not in U.S. custody and unlikely to be handed over by the Russia government, the U.S. Treasury Department said it has sanctioned them for their alleged roles in leading the group. The U.S. State Department is offering rewards of up to $10 million for information leading to their arrest.

The U.K. is announcing sanctions of its own and has summoned Russia's ambassador to "make clear" the actions over the election interference allegations are unacceptable and future similar efforts will result in "further consequences," officials said Thursday.